An Interview with Christopher Cooke - Director of CELTA Training Montreal
CELTA Coordinator, CELTA Tutor and Cambridge Assessor for Montreal and part time CELTA courses in Vancouver and Toronto
Christopher Cooke is originally from New Zealand and took a BA in History at the University of Auckland. He has worked as a TEFL teacher for many years, and has obtained both the Cambridge CELTA and the Cambridge Delta qualifications, eventually qualifying as a CELTA assessor as well. Christopher has worked around the world, from New Zealand to 15 years teaching and training in language schools and universities in Italy. He has now made Montreal, Canada his base and as well as being a CELTA instructor there, has become Director of CELTA Training in North America – for CELTA training centres across Canada - in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto. We ask Christopher about his TEFL journey and how he made it to the position he is in now…
You originally took a history degree in Auckland, what compelled you to go into teaching English as a foreign language?
I had taken Italian classes while at university and wanted to spend some time in Italy after graduating. It seemed that teaching English was a realistic way to be able to reach that goal, so I went to Rome to take the CELTA program there. It was really a means to an end. It wasn’t until I started teaching that I realised how much I enjoyed it.
What were your motivations to leave your home country of New Zealand to begin a new life in Italy?
New Zealand is a beautiful country and will always be my home, but it is isolated and growing up I always wanted to live in the middle of things. And seriously, who wouldn’t want to live in Italy? The people, the climate, the food …
How do you think taking the CELTA certificate prepared you for working in the TESOL industry?
I had never taught before taking the CELTA program and without that training I wouldn’t have had a clue about how to plan a lesson or what to do in the classroom. The practicality of the course was exactly what I needed. The program also allowed me to meet other people already living in Rome and to start networking and getting information about jobs. Most importantly, though, no decent school would have employed me if I hadn’t completed the CELTA program.
Do you think obtaining the Cambridge Delta qualification has changed the way you teach English?
Absolutely! The CELTA was a great starting point, but after a few years of teaching I needed some new ideas and stimulation. While the Delta was more theory-based, it was still directly related to the teaching that I was doing. I also knew going into it what I wasn’t good at – dealing with pronunciation or knowing effective ways to correct students. The CELTA gave me a solid foundation in teaching and the Delta reinforced that and added to it.
You wrote an article describing techniques to increase motivation for teenage EFL students, how important do you think it is to include kinetic activities during English lessons?
I was reluctant to teach younger learners and found it very difficult at first. I was unclear on my role and was uncomfortable using material that was designed specifically to appeal to younger students. What I realised after some trial and error was that the students didn’t want to waste time or to play games; they wanted to learn and they wanted to work. As I taught teenagers more, I taught them more and more like adult learners, aiming particularly to involve them in the process of choosing materials that appealed to them and their interests. I liked to include a lot of project work with concrete goals. This seemed to help with motivation.
How easy is it to find employment in the TEFL field in Canada?
There are a lot of language schools in Canada. Montreal is a big attraction for international students as they can learn study both English and French. Many of our bilingual CELTA grads end up teaching both English and French. Toronto and Vancouver too are very big markets for language students. Most of our graduates find work easily after completing the course, some working in the classroom, others doing corporate teaching.
What do you like most about residing in Canada now?
Canada is a beautiful country and very varied. Personally, I love the winter. Maybe it’s the novelty of coming from a country where we don’t have a lot of snow. I love being outside in the winter and manage to run throughout the winter – my cut off point being minus 20. I like that Canada receives people from all over the world which makes it a very rich country culturally. People are open-minded and welcoming and I find the sense of humour similar to that of New Zealanders.
When you’re not teaching or running CELTA courses, what do you do in your spare time?
Montreal is a great place for festivals – the Jazz festival, Just for Laughs, many others – and there are great galleries and museums too. I run which is a great way to see the city and Montreal is also very bike-friendly. I also enjoy cooking and eating and there are great outdoor markets as well as excellent restaurants.
How would you advise potential CELTA candidates to prepare for the course?
Do the pre-course task to be familiar with some of the basic concepts on the course. Get a decent grammar reference that you can use while lesson planning. Clear the decks in your personal life, i.e. let your friends and family know that you’re off the radar for the duration of the course – particularly the intensive course. Focus on the end goal, remember that you’re doing this course to start an exciting new job. It’s not about the grades, it’s about learning as much as possible and taking advantage of the opportunities that the course presents.